October 26, 2014

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How to understand the Taipei Gay Pride Parade

The annual Taipei Gay Pride Parade, one of the biggest in Asia, was held a few days ago, on October 25th to be precise. Taiwan's China Times reported following:

Around 65,000 people yesterday marched toward Ketagalan Boulevard (凱達格蘭大道) as part of the 2014 Taiwan LGBT Pride (2014台灣同志遊行) parade event in celebration of the LGBT population and bringing awareness to the demographic.

Just like every year, not everybody was supportive of the parade:

The Taiwan Family Guardians Alliance (台灣守護家庭大聯盟) yesterday held a press conference while the 2014 LGBT Pride transpired, criticizing the event as immoral with an excessive amount of sexual display. Stating that the openness of the event is no different than public indecency, the alliance went on to publically encourage police authorities to conduct investigations to see if any laws were broken.

My initial reaction

I have not attended the parade this year, because I wasn't in the country, but I actually hoped to. The only time that I did attend was in 2011, and I had mixed feelings about it ever since. I expected a more serious protest for equality, instead it was more like a carnival style post-graduation march. When I saw images of bizzare costumes posted on Facebook by my Taiwanese and foreign friends who attended, I couldn't help but write following comment on my Facebook page today:

PBS: Same-sex marriage now recognized in six additional US states. Meanwhile in ‪Taiwan‬ it seems that it's all about parading half naked in silly costumes.

When I see images like this one (further below), I wonder what does dressing up that way contribute to the advancement of ‪LGBT‬ rights? What is the message you want to convey to society? If you're using the parade to show off your fetish, then I think you're harming the movement, it's not the right venue for that. As a strong supporter of LGBT rights, it saddens me every year to see how shallow the parade in ‪Taipei‬ has become. Wasn't one of the key arguments that we're all the same regardless of our sexual orientation? Where did that message disappear?

Check out how it looked like in 2004. That year only 4,000 people marched through Taipei pleading for equality and tolerance, this year some people thought they should highlight their genitals.

Maybe I'm getting old, or maybe I just fail to see the connection between dressing up like Hannibal Lecter and fighting for LGBT equality, maybe someone can enlighten me on this, and on the logic behind the 2014 Taiwan Pride Parade.

What followed was a long stream of diverse comments by gay and straight followers, which helped me to get a better understanding of what the parade actually symbolizes, and how these unusual costumes should be understood. I'm not an expert on gay rights, nor am I very familiar with the gay community in Taiwan, my reaction to these images was instantaneous and emotional. I could not comprehend the logic behind it. And based on the comments by my Facebook friends, I was not the only one. But when I've read some of my followers' comments and explanations, I really started to see things differently. In order to offer a similar experience to those parade skeptics among my blog readers, I decided to republish the best comments.

Understanding the Taipei Gay Pride Parade

The comment that gave me the most to think about my own understanding and perceptions was made by Alexander Synaptic. Here an excerpt of the main part:

Personally I think it is very positive and even remarkable that in Taiwan people feel comfortable enough to be themselves, however they may identify, at the annual pride celebration. The fetish wear you are wagging your finger at is part of queer culture and to bring it all out into the open is part of what the event is all about. You mentioned an argument that "we're all the same regardless of our sexual orientation" but I don't think this is quite true... rather we are -not- all the same regardless of sexual orientation but we're all human and deserve the same basic rights. Finally, I get the sense that you're making an argument from political pragmatism, namely that you support gay rights but feel like the optics on this particular subject are bad... well, maybe, but history is filled with queer people who tried to hide their identities and were discriminated against or slain regardless.

Eric K Han was the first one to actually answer my plead for a better understanding. Here is what he said:

I don't think there's anything wrong with what goes on at Pride. I tend to think of it as a parade rather than a march of human rights, and since it's merely a parade, I don't think what happens needs to have a direct effect on advancing gay rights. Like you said, it's just a carnival and there are other LGBT events organized specifically to advance gay rights. And from what I can tell, they way people act and the way the events are presented are quite different than Pride. These events just don't get as much publicity as Pride does. [Link 1][Link 2]

I hate when people (who are LGBT or not) say that certain people within the LGBT community are "harming the movement". Many straight-acting gays say that of more effeminate gays and it's a ridiculous statement to make. Just because certain people (or their costumes) aren't pleasing to the mainstream eye doesn't mean they shouldn't be celebrated in public as part of the parade, because whether we like it or not, they are part of the community.

David Reid, veteran Taiwan blogger, looked at the bigger picture, his comment struck a nerve with me as well:

It is important to understand the context that these marches take place in. In many parts of the world people face arrest, assault or even worse simply for publicly revealing their sexual orientation. In many countries any kind of LGBT rights march or parade is held in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. It would have been no different when the first march was held in Taiwan back in 2003. Thankfully Taiwan's society has become more accepting and open in the past couple of decades. It is a positive sign that Taiwan can hold such a large parade in a peaceful and happy way.

Also saying "we're all the same" misses a key point. We are all humans equally deserving of rights and dignity. However, the world would be a boring place if we were all the same. We can also celebrate our diversity and events like Taiwan Pride are a chance to do this.

Josh Ellis was on topic as well, and explained the way he sees the parade:

I think the point is to highlight the diversity of the LBGT community. They show their pride by marching on the streets doing things that may seem out of the ordinary to some - but that's the point. The atmosphere of pride should be like Mardi Gras or Carnival. They exhibit that they're proud to be LBGT and they want people who are afraid to come out to be able to feel the same way without a fear of persecution and exclusion from their friends and family.

Of course there are always some who may seem to take it too far at any pride parade and the media focuses on them alone. Which is where I see the problem and ultimately the necessity of continuing pride parades - the media focuses on the 'shocking' aspects of the parade and people who don't really understand or are biased against the community pick up on that and criticize it while completely forgetting that the overall message of pride is equality and love.

And to finish off the conversation, I'd like to highlight a comment by Jing-Yuan Chen, who says he's part of the community and attending for several years. Here's what he had to say:

As a gay and participant in the parade for 5 straight years, I see what you're getting at. I have to say yes the host are not "effect-oriented", since what you said is true, all the nudity is going to outshine the core equality issue on the media coverage. No progress of equality will be seen immediately. But by insisting on showing off the body and expressing the different sexual preference and orientation, we hope to familiarize outsiders that LGBT community is more tolerant for everything and that's the attitude we wish the other people have toward us. I wish I can say the discrimination will go away if we stop pounding each other's asses or stop sucking each other's d***s, but it's not, the hater will hate us simply because we like to have sex with the same gender. The discrimination we're suffering results from the orientation itself and the sex behind it, anal sex, fetish, BDSM, etc. which means to tackle the inequality you have to tackle the sex factor as well. To do that we have to make ppl not afraid of sexual impression, the basic manifesto is nudity. And yah, we provoke some prudish and fundies, but just like we fight in the court for a legal marriage, we hope this "rub on your face" measure will give those people a quick understanding that normal sex is not the only dominant intercourse in this world and everyone has right to express themselves in his or her most comfortable way, just like being sissy and dike.

Thank you all for the respectful discussion, and for a new perspective.

Further links:

Taiwanreporter's video of the 2014 parade
Taiwanese activists urge for legalization of gay marriage
Humans of Taipei: Gay Parade 2014

October 25, 2014

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Taiwanese working in China may secure KMT victory in Taipei mayoral race

One has to have very strong guts to read all the way to the end of this shabby piece in the Want China Times, that sounds more like a campaign staffer mobilizing voters instead of a journalistic work. It's not hard to guess that this has upset me quite a bit. Since I'm good with numbers and statistics, let me simplify it for you: So according to Want China Times up to 4.9% of potential voters in the Taipei mayoral election live and work in China, which equals to around 70,000 people, and if we are to believe these numbers, then the total sum of voters in Taipei should be 1,428,571). 70% of Taiwanese working in China are believed to be KMT supporters, which would equal to around 49,000 potential voters for Lien. The article further claims that if they would've returned to Taiwan just to vote for someone, who's biggest achievement is being the son of the former chairman of the unpopular ruling party, he may secure a victory. On a first glance that seems to be less likely then sighting a yeti on Alishan, but in order to be fair, I decided to analyze these numbers published by the Want China Times.

Let's add more stats into the mix

An article in Focus Taiwan reports that an opinion poll conducted by the pro-Lien United Daily News from 4 days ago made following claims (my summary):

"Ko Wen-je would beat Sean Lien of the Kuomintang by a margin of 13 percentage points if the Taipei mayoral election were to be held now. 42 percent of Taipei City's voters favored Ko, compared with 29 percent favoring Lien. 26 percent of those surveyed remained undecided or would not reveal their preference, and the remaining 3 percent backed the five other candidates registered in the race."

The voter turnout in the 2010 Taipei Mayoral election was 70.65% (1,433,736 voters in total), which confirms Want China Time's number. Let's get to the analysis.

Now let the numbers do the magic

I want to answer following question: Based on the numbers that have been thrown around in the article, what would it take for Sean Lien to win this race?

Below is my calculation based on the assumption that:

- Expected number of total voters will be 1,428,571
- 70,000 voters work in China, all Lien supporters will come back to Taipei to vote
- The recent UDN poll of voters in Taiwan is accurate

I have also set most other assumptions in favor of Lien to show how difficult he will have it to secure victory. Let me stress that these numbers are speculative, they may highlight a certain trend and challenge, but they should not be understood literally.

The calculation

The most difficult thing here was to figure out how many of the undecideds will not vote for Lien or Ko, but for other less known candidates. I have put it at 3.87% (same as in the current poll, if we just focus on decided voters), assuming that the ratio will be preserved, but this is purely speculative, and chosen to give Lien favorable numbers.

The conclusion

Ko and Lien are basically competing for a pool of 339,574 undecided voters, and Lien needs to take 68.8% of these votes (or 233,595). He has to grow his current support 52.7% until November 29th. Achieving all this is not impossible, but it will surely be difficult, because everything points into the opposite direction right now. And my assumption is based on the fact that all Kuomintang supporters who work in China come back and vote for him, which is 49,000 people. If we take (based on these numbers) that an average round trip from a Chinese city to Taipei costs 200 USD, the cost of bringing all these people to Taipei to vote would be 9,8 million USD. I'm pretty sure that this money is peanuts for the Lien clan, but the logistics behind getting all of them here to vote will be a bigger challenge. And one thing is sure: They will not be the deciding factor. Lien needs to primarily focus on energizing people who actually live in Taipei, because they are the ones that are mostly unimpressed with him. It just doesn't look good for him regardless how we spin the numbers. I would not bet on Lien this year.

Sean Lien's got 99 problems but money ain't one.

October 10, 2014

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The "Taipei Moon Bridge" viral photo demystified

I want to highlight two phenomena today, that always occur when Taiwan tops some random list on an English language website. The first thing that usually happens is Taiwanese media picks it up, translates it into Chinese, and the stuff gets viral in Taiwan, usually on social media first, and later also on TV. Then Taiwanese netizens go to that site and start to comment, often also in Chinese. That's partly because Taiwanese are generally lacking recognition in the world due to the tricky international standing, and the obstructions by the neighboring bully China, so there is a yearning to be recognized and appreciated as a nation, especially with the younger generation. And the second thing I want to highlight is how often stuff about Taiwan gets viral, that may not accurately reflect the reality of the country, because people abroad simply don't know Taiwan that well, but they do have some wrong ideas. Usually it's some obscure random stuff with little substance labeled under "whacky East Asia", which leads to further cliches about Taiwan (and that's a topic for a completely new post).

Apple Daily usually starts it

Screen grab from Apple Daily. Their FB post generated over 16,000 likes by now.

So this is what happened today: Taiwan's number one tabloid Apple Daily reposted and translated parts of a user generated post on Bored Panda titled "20+ Mystical Bridges That Will Take You To Another World", because an image of an arch bridge in Taipei's Neihu District landed on the list. The linked post on their Facebook page reached a massive virality by now (over 16,000 likes, and over 800 reshares), which must have caused huge traffic spikes on Bored Panda. Taiwanese netizens have been upvoting this image for a while now, so it became "no 1 mystical bridge in the world" on that list (when I checked it earlier today, it was second). That's not really something to be proud of, to be honest.

Sorry, but the Taipei Moon Bridge is not mystical

The Taipei Moon Bridge (encircled in red) is by now the most popular mystical bridge on that list. See the image in full scale.

The funny thing is, that this seemingly mystical image already went viral 2 years ago, when the British tabloid The Daily Mail and some other European tabloids reposted some of these images (which were taken from a Taiwanese photographer's Flickr photo set), and wrote following fluff:

Morning mist hangs in the calm, still air adding to the dream-like magic of this tranquil setting in Taiwan. The crystal clear water allows for a perfect reflection of an upside down world, almost playing tricks on the mind. With scenery like this, it is no wonder that Taiwan was formerly known as the Beautiful Island - Ilha Formosa - to the West.

After I read this article two years ago, I decided to pay Neihu a visit with my DLSR, and see the Moon Bridge with my own eyes. While the bridge and the surrounding lake are quite pleasant, it doesn't feel as mystical as the images would let you believe. That's because they were photoshopped (the "playing tricks on the mind" part was correct). Those who live in Taiwan would know, that there is usually no morning mist in Taipei when the sun is up that high. It must have been at least 10-11 AM when the viral photo was taken, which means it can should've been really hot already, any kind of early morning mist would've evaporated long time ago. Don't misunderstand me, I love the image, and the Photoshop effect is awesome, but unfortunately people outside Taiwan believe this photo represents an authentic reality. It does not. Here's how the Moon Bridge looks like on my photos when I visited Neihu in May 2012:

A view from afar.

The Taipei Moon Bridge.

A side view.

The Taipei MRT brown line to Nangang is passing by here.

The bridge is not always easy to see. Can you spot it?

The Dahu Park is really nice, though.

This is a residential neighborhood behind the lake.

History of the Taipei Moon Bridge

Taipei's Moon Bridge, as it's named in English by the local government, is called 錦帶橋 in Chinese, which is actually the name of a famous wooden arch bridge in Iwakuni, Japan - the Kintai Bridge. That bridge dates back to 1673, and is considered one of Japan's national treasures (source). The design of the Taipei Moon Bridge however looks very similar to a lot of arch bridges (拱橋) found in China, most notably the Jade Belt Bridge 玉帶橋 at the Summer Palace in Beijing, that dates back to 1736 (source). The Dahu Park as it looks like today was built between 1979 and 1983, and was designed as a classical Chinese garden (source). So to sum everything up: The photoshopped Moon Bridge is actually not older than 25 years. It has the same name as a famous old bridge in Japan, and the same design as a famous old bridge in China. I think Sanxiantai would be a better choice for the list.

Kintai bridge.jpg
"Kintai bridge" by pastaitaken. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Gaoliang Bridge.JPG
"Jade Belt Bridge". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
A side shot of the Taipei Moon Bridge for comparison.

October 9, 2014

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The Kuomintang PSY

As it turns out, the Kuomintang, Taiwan's current ruling party, has a candidate competing in local elections for the city council in Zhonghe District named Chiu Feng-yao (邱烽堯), that looks a little bit like the Korean singing sensation PSY. While the similarity seems to be coincidental, his campaign is definitely trying to take advantage of it. The top down slogan in red says: "打造快樂新北市" ("Develop happy New Taipei City"). The slogan in the blue bubble next to the PSY caricature says: "一起跳躍" ("Let's jump together").

"Zhonghe style" is not quite like "Gangnam Style".

It's unclear at this point what Chiu's policies of "jumping together" and "developing happy New Taipei City mean", but if we judge it by the policies of his father Chiu Chui-yi (邱垂益), the current mayor of Zhonghe, then there's not much to look forward to. Zhonghe is one of the noisiest, most crowded, and most polluted parts of Greater Taipei, and probably all of Taiwan. Apart from a few new metro stations, and lots of new high-rise apartment blocks randomly shooting out everywhere (with most apartments being empty), nothing much has changed in recent years. Zhonghe is usually voting Kuomintang, there are a lot of old party loyal soldier communities found all over the district. There is no such thing as "Yes We Can!" in Zhonghe, people vote for continuity, and that's why it looks the way it does.

PSY is not amused

I reached out to PSY via phone call, and he told me "he was not amused" after I mailed him the controversial image. He further stated "that his globally recognized caricature was misused for political means by the Kuomintang", and that "he has never worn a T-shirt with Kuomintang party logo", and that the popular chatting app LINE "paid thousands of Wons" for the stickers with his image, so they "will not let Mr. Chiu's campaign team get away without paying royalties, possibly worth thousands of Wons" unless the banner is retracted, and an official apology is aired on Korean national TV by Mr. Chiu's father. He also said that "he supported Mr. Ma's peace initiative in the South China Sea", and that "he was tolerant of various lifestyles". I was not able to get a response from Mr. Chiu, or his campaign staff, but you can send him an email here for further clarifications.

"Why did the Kuomintang not pay any royalties for using my star allure and the LINE sticker!" the real PSY replied while waiting for the official apology.

October 4, 2014


Alarming: Taiwan records highest foreign tourist arrivals growth worldwide

"Taiwan records highest foreign tourist arrivals growth worldwide" - An article with this title is circling around Taiwan's online media and social networks today, and portrayed as something Taiwan should be proud of. Whenever Taiwan tops an international list, the media immediately starts a virtual pride parade. Initially published by Focus Taiwan (the English version of the CNA a.k.a. Central News Agency), the article came without any source link, which is always a little suspicious to me. I decided to dig around, and see what is behind this story. First of all, the story originated from UNWTO (United Nations World Tourist Organisation), a press release titled "International tourism up by 5% in the first half of the year" can be found here. Most of the data from that press release is taken from the "UNWTO World Tourism Barometer" [PDF], which is a summary of a more detailed data that highlights tourism trends by country. That statistic is behind a paywall, and includes detailed data on Taiwan, and other countries for first half of 2014. For some reason Focus Taiwan has access to that information, however I was unable to obtain this file, so in fact I can't verify Focus Taiwan's numbers, but I do trust that they are true.

Why these numbers are bad for Taiwan

While I'd love to have the original file at hand and offer a deeper analysis, it's not necessary to figure out that something is not right here. Let's see this paragraph:

"In a report, the UNWTO said that foreign tourist arrivals in Taiwan for the first six months of the year rose 26.7 percent from a year earlier, topping Japan's 26.4 year-on-year percent increase, which was the second largest in the world."

So YoY (year over year) growth of foreign tourist arrivals in Taiwan was the largest in the world. Some may think: "Yay! Taiwan is so great, no other country in the world is welcoming foreign tourists at a faster pace than Taiwan in the first half of the year." However, this is only one half of the story. The next paragraph exposes the main problem:

"The UNWTO report also showed that Taiwan's international tourism revenue for the first half of the year rose 18.5 percent from a year earlier, behind only Japan with a 27.5 percent increase and South Korea with a 25.2 percent rise, in the world's rankings."

So while the number of arrivals to Taiwan grew 26.7%, the tourism revenue only grew 18.5%. This means the actual spending of these tourists dropped on average (while the opposite has happened in Japan and South Korea), and that is definitely nothing to be proud of, because we're basically getting more and more people into the country, but they keep spending less and less. And it seems that the growth will not stop any time soon, as the article further indicates:

Liu [head of Taiwan's Tourism Bureau] said the bureau will continue to promote Taiwan's beautiful scenery and rich culture to potential foreign visitors this year, and is confident of attracting 9.5 million foreign tourists for the whole year, up from some 8 million in 2013.

And what does Taiwan's government think about the record growth of mass tourism, the declining spending, and all the negative impacts that go with it? We get the answer to that at the end of the article:

Meanwhile, Vice President Wu Den-yih said he expects Taiwan's foreign tourist arrivals to top 10 million in 2015, in light of the current tourism data and the government's promotion campaigns.

Great! The government's answer is more tourists.

While we don't have UNWTO's H1 2014 stats publicly available, you can check their numbers for 2013. And yes, Taiwan is listed as Province of China.

Who are these tourists?

If you live in Taiwan like me, you don't need to be a scientist to realize that the biggest part of these record numbers consist of tourists from China, it's obvious almost everywhere you go. The latest government numbers for January to July 2014 confirm that:

A total of 5,630,085 visitors arrived in the Republic of China from July through July this year, up 1,189,347 or 26.78% from the 4,440,738 in the same period last year.

These are some staggering numbers. Let's see what were the top 5 countries of arrival:

1. Mainland China accounted for 2,305,638 or 40.95% of the total, up 38.41%, consisting of 22,140 foreign visitors, up 6.63%, and 2,283,498 Overseas Chinese, up 38.81%.

2. Japan accounted for 900,682 or 16% of the total, up 18.39%, consisting of 900,043 foreign visitors, up 18.43%, and 639 Overseas Chinese, down 19.72%.

3. Hong Kong and Macao, 792,318 or 14.07%, up 18.93%, consisting of 69,225 foreign visitors up 2.17%, and 723,093 Overseas Chinese, up 20.83%.

4. U.S.A., 264,801 or 4.7%, up 12.28%, consisting of 262,708 foreign visitors, up 12.49%, and 2,093 Overseas Chinese, down 9.16%.

5. Southeast Asia, 764,962 or 13.59%, up 17.14%, consisting of 760,146 foreign visitors, up 17.32%, and 4,816 Overseas Chinese, down 5.92%.

As you can see, visitors from the neighboring PRC a.k.a China (including Macau and Hong Kong SAR) contributed over 55% of foreign arrivals. You can imagine that such dependency on mass tourism from one country is not healthy in the long run, what's more, China is the biggest threat to Taiwan's peace and security, which adds a whole different dimension to the issue. To be fair, arrivals from almost every country are growing, but those from China are overshadowing every one of them.

Taiwan's government has a strange obsession with dividing people into "Overseas Chinese" and "Foreigners" (source, 2013). No idea what is this good for.

Mainlandization has already begun in Taiwan

Mark O'Neill's article "Mainlandization: How Hong Kong and Taiwan are coping" from August (which I highly recommend) seems to be a very good read in the wake of the recent Occupy Central movement. He sums up the biggest issue very well:

The situation is similar in the two places. In the first half of this year, 21.82 million mainlanders visited Hong Kong, an increase of 16 percent year on year, accounting for 77 per cent of all tourists.

In the first five months of the year, 1.65 million mainlanders visited Taiwan, up 38 percent and accounting for 41 percent of all visitors. Taiwan imposes a ceiling of 5,000 a day on mainlanders who come in groups.

Because Hong Kong is smaller and the number so much higher, the impact is greater. The debate in both places is fierce, the arguments are the same.

Hong Kong is unfortunately the best indicator of what kind of future awaits Taiwan, if it allows more Chinese tourists into the country. Tourism and politics are not that far from each other when it comes to Taiwan and China, things we have never imagined are already happening in Taiwan, and I think it's about to get worse. I'm all for Chinese tourists coming to Taiwan, I welcome the exchange, especially with those who don't come in groups and have a general interest to discover the country's treasures, but there has to be a balance. Chasing high arrival numbers for the sake of hitting milestones is very backward. Taiwan should focus on increased spending per person, not increased influx numbers, why can't the government put efforts in developing the premium segment, instead of focusing on the masses?

This is Chinese mass tourism on Alishan, one of Taiwan's most scenic mountains.

Related: Difference between Chinese and Taiwanese tourists.